Beeston Parents

Do you remember “Blockbusters”, that cheesy gameshow hosted by the very lovely Bob Holness? It was bright and breezy, with young students pitted against each other in a battle to be the first to say “Can I have a ‘P’ please Bob?” The whole thing was accompanied by mascots perched atop desks, and frantic hand jiving to the opening and closing “da da da da” – type theme music.

Well, in the mid-nineties, I was a teaching student in Leeds, and open to any light relief from the intense round of assignments, teaching practice and general student shenanigans. My friend Claire asked if I wanted to go to an audition. Of course I did. I’d loved Blockbusters in school.

So we attended a very dismal audition in a hotel in Leeds, where we had to stand up and tell everyone something about ourselves. I was very witty, amiable and articulate (probably) and a month later, we had a phone call to say we were on! The researcher was a bit stern – “it’s grown-up, BBC2 daytime TV, so no mascots, no whacky t-shirts, no hand-jiving, and the host is Michael Aspell”.

I revised hard for the quiz show by sitting in the pub impressing boys with my second-hand copy of “The Blockbusters Quiz Book”. Must have worked – I’m married to one of them now. And I had my hair cut because I was going to be on TV.

On the day, we joined about 50 other adults, ranging in age from 18 to 70 at Granada Studios. It was very exciting, because there were lots of Corrie stars walking about, getting cups of coffee from the vending machine. I didn’t recognize them, because I was an EastEnders fan, but they looked as if I should know them. I caught a glimpse of some filming going on in a neighbouring studio and was proud to report that I’d seen Matt Lucas, who I knew as the Drummer from Vic and Bob, and the Bloke from the Renault Megane advert.

Now, if you’ve seen Blockbusters, you know that it is a strange beast, with a team of two players against a solo player. Claire and I were in a pair, and our opponent was an extremely tall geeky boy from Bristol called Steve. The filming started, and I eagerly answered the first question, incorrectly. Steve answered a couple, Claire answered a couple, and I was inwardly crying about my quiz annihilation.

“What  E is the real name of actor Martin Sheen?” – I knew this – Emilio Estevez is his son! So I proudly whacked the buzzer, shouted Estevez, and I was in the game.

We won the first game, and paused for some awkward chit chat with Aspell. I mumbled something about wanting to work with street children, Claire talked about white-water rafting, and Steve declared that he wrote comedy and wanted to be a DJ. Oh dear.

Thankfully the torture ceased, and we recommenced the game. I was in the zone! I realized that this was what I was born to do – to answer random questions, and beat opponents. I raced through the second game, and then with victory within my grasp, and one solitary letter flashing on the board, Aspell announced that it was a cliffhanger, and we stopped filming.

The next day we were taxied back to the studio, more hair and makeup, fresh clothes, microphones attached, and won the round. Yippee! Steve was duly dispatched, and I stepped up to The Hotspot for a Gold Run. I swiftly worked my way across the board: POO(!) = Point of Order; PAP = Pret A Porter, SW=Snow White etc. And Bam! We had won a prize. The voiceover started off well, “we know you enjoy travelling…” but then went on to “so here are some travel books”. Oh.

So we beat the next contestant, a lovely little old lady, and won Gold Run number 2, with Helicopter flying lessons as the prize (much better). Aspell alarmingly called us “The Thelma and Louise of Blockbusters”.  We then had a difficult few rounds with a Liverpudlian with very shiny white teeth, beat him, won Gold Run number 3, with a prize of a trip to Reykjavik.


Unfortunately, the juggernaut that was Roopam and Claire had to be stopped, because on the BBC version, you had to retire after three Gold Runs.

The show aired a few weeks later in between some cricket on daytime BBC2. Most people I knew missed it, so I taped all three episodes on VHS, which I would occasionally bring out to bore people with, then that was it. My life as a TV quiz superstar fizzled out, and I went back to being a trainee teacher, never to see any of my fellow contestants again…

Until ten years later. I was watching “The Office” when The Oggmonster came on came on and I realised it was Steve, the tall geeky chap from Blockbusters. I dug my VHS tape out and then uploaded it to Youtube.

Stephen Merchant’s obsessive fans got me on his Radio 6 show for a chat, which went:

“You beat me at Blockbusters, but how many BAFTA’s have you got”

Guess he got to live his dream of writing comedy and being a DJ.

Roopnam Carroll



Beeston Parents

When I was four years old, I was a fantastic artist.

You could ask me to draw anything: real, imaginary, or a mix of the two, and I would just get on with it. I would use anything available that makes marks. Things like:

  • chewed-up biros – in those days they had a death cap on them that was a serious choking hazard. No strategically-placed airhole in the seventies;
  • stubby pock-marked crayons with or without the paper wrapping. It was a bonus if I could see what colour the crayon was meant to be;
  • felt tips – if they were dried up I would just lick the end;
  • broken pencil nibs. Not the pencil bit, just the broken-off bit. I did have very small hands all those years ago and could hold the 7mm length quite comfortably;
  • paint, with strange nylon brushes that always pointed out in a multitude of directions, so each line painted would come with an echo;
  • Plasticine – yes, it left greasy faint marks on the page;
  • Most shockingly, I found that matches had a lovely red bit on the end that I could draw with – not for long, and not without the pain of an important lesson on how not to use matches;
  • My Mum’s makeup – I loved lipstick.

Not only could I use an impressive range of media to make the marks, I could create my works of art almost anywhere:

  • The skirting board going up the stairs was brilliant. It went on and on, and I loved making a wiggly continuous line along it. It was a stunning landscape – mountains, valleys, hills, hummocks and some sheer cliff edges. It was enhanced by being on the diagonal, rising upwards.
  • My parents painted the living room a wonderful shade of lilac. I really loved sneaking in and making hand prints in the wet paint. My parents preserved the hand print art by hiding it behind the sofa. Not sure that they loved it as much as I did.
  • Steamed up windows – how could anybody resist drawing on those? It was extra special when there was ice too. It curved up beautifully in the corners, like a Victorian illustration, and added extra sensory crunch to my artistic creations. It was such fun to draw with my fingers in the condensation, leaving cold drips streaming from the trails I drew.
  • Paper – so many wonderful textures, colours, surfaces. I really liked to use the sugar paper at school. It was mysterious to me – we didn’t have anything like it at home. It was brightly-coloured, rough on one side and smooth as ice on the other. When I folded it the folds stood proud and didn’t dissolve back into the surface. It was even more fascinating to tear it and create rough, irregular frayed edges. I found the perfect combination of media when I was allowed to use pastels. Degas created masterpieces using just the pure pigment of pastels and his fingers. I’m off now to get some chalky, densely-pigmented pastels and some lovely, rough sugar paper. The children at nursery will love that.

But what happened? When did my unbridled joy in creating art and pictures turn into fear and embarrassment? Pablo Picasso said: “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.”

I strongly believe that when we draw for children, cut things out for them, give them colouring sheets and dotted lines, we chip away at their childish joy. The joy they feel in just drawing, painting, exploring, experimenting and creating. We are telling them that they are doing it wrong and that they cannot do it the right way. We are teaching them that a house has to be a square with a triangle for a roof and a door set smack bang in the middle of it.

To encourage our children to be creative, we have to let them be creative and create what they see, what they feel and what they can imagine. If they want to draw themselves as three times the height of your car, that’s fine. If they want to make a snowman with three eyes and two mouths – fine. Who says that snowmen have to look a certain way? If they want to put their hands in the paint and swirl all the colours together into one slurry, then slowly and systematically cover every square inch of the paper, or piece of foil, or box, with that colour, then fine.

Let them enjoy the process and learn how to make marks, how to enjoy making art and how to take pride in their work. There is plenty of time for them to conform when they are older and when they want to. Imagine if Degas had been told not to use his fingers and to stay within the lines.

Roopnam Carroll